Opinion: Coronavirus Is Exposing the Threat the Texas GOP Poses to Public Health
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez explains why a government that takes care of its people builds a healthier and safer country
The novel coronavirus is exposing the failures of the policies heralded by Texas Republicans, from the likes of Governor Greg Abbott to Senator John Cornyn. Both have supported slashing funding for public health programs at the state and federal level. Additionally, both oppose universal healthcare, and Governor Greg Abbott personally led the legal effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, when he was the state’s attorney general.
Not surprisingly, news reports are showing Texas is far less equipped than other states to respond to COVID-19. One major factor impacting Texas is that, unlike most states who have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, our elected leaders have refused to do so, helping maintain the state’s embarrassing distinction of having the highest uninsured rate in the country.
Thus, when Governor Abbott told Texans last week “If you think you have it [COVID-19], you should call your doctor. … The COVID-19 test is going to be provided for free to anybody who qualifies for it. The qualifier is a prescription by a doctor,” it came across as tone deaf to millions of Texans who have no health insurance and no doctor.
Luis Mireles, a 24-year-old college student studying business analytics, is like the one in six Texans that have no health insurance. He doesn't have a family doctor, either. Luis lives in Brownsville with his father, a carpenter, who also is uninsured. Luis puts himself through school with grants, loans, and driving for Uber. Uber drivers don’t have insurance since the company refuses to consider its drivers as employees – and instead classifies its three million U.S. drivers as independent subcontractors (but that’s part of another story).
Like thousands of Texans who don’t have health insurance and live along the U.S./Mexico border, one of the poorest regions in the country, Luis goes to Mexico when he needs to see a doctor or to fill a prescription. However, with borders recently closing, Luis isn’t sure what he will do if he gets sick or contracts the coronavirus. Seeking medical help without insurance isn’t something he feels he can afford.
Last year Luis experienced chest pain and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and went home with a $3,000 medical bill. It took him an entire year to pay it off, and ultimately he had to take out a loan to finish making payments. According to Luis, “that experience taught me to put up with whatever pain or sickness I have, so my family won’t be overwhelmed with the cost of it all.”
We haven’t even begun to see the full effects of having one of the most poorly funded public safety nets in the country. Regions, like the Valley, that have some of the highest uninsured rates in the state also have a disproportionate number of residents inflicted by pre-existing conditions, which will only deepen the impact of the coronavirus. In the Valley an estimated 27% of residents have diabetes, a rate that’s almost three times higher than the general U.S. population.
The coronavirus has turned the cracks in the GOP philosophy of small government into fault lines. This pandemic has exposed that leaving everything in the hands of the private sector with no care for the needs of the greater public only leads to catastrophe. To fight this pandemic, a coordinated state and national response is required – the exact purpose of government.
The coronavirus crisis is proving that a government that takes care of its people builds a healthier and safer country. The exact policies that Texas Republicans have long opposed would make facing this crisis more manageable – universal healthcare, paid family and medical leave, guaranteed employment, canceling student debt, guaranteed housing, and bailing out working families in an economic recession. The threat to Texans’ public health and economic interests isn’t just born from this virus but from the GOP’s willful negligence to govern beyond the interests of business and to prioritize the interests of the American people instead.
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate for Texas and founder of Jolt and Workers Defense Project. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post and the American Prospect.
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